You may know that Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States. You may not know, however, that after William McKinley’s assassination, Teddy became the youngest president our country has ever had at only 42 years old. He was an extremely accomplished young man as an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist and reformer. We learned this and much more about Teddy while visiting the National Park in North Dakota named for him. It was established on 4/25/1947 and protects 70,467 acres of land in three units all located on the western side of the state.
We chose to visit the South Unit, beginning with a stop at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. Its located directly off the I-94 highway at exit 32 and provides park information and great views of the rugged badlands below from the top of this bluff.
Only hiking trails provide park access from here so we drove a few exits farther to the main park entrance in the town of Medora. Here, we found a small museum and the Maltese Cross Log Cabin that Teddy lived in for a while starting back in 1883. In fact, it is said that Teddy came to North Dakota shortly after both his wife and mother passed away within a very short time of each other. This was (and still appears to be) a tough place to create a life. Yet, he was a tough man and found this experience here cathartic. Later, he would credit his time in North Dakota with enabling him to become president. His conservationist legacy includes federal protection of more than 230 million acres of land including 5 national parks, 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reserves, the first 18 national monuments (some of which were later established by others as national parks) and the first 4 national game preserves. (He did not establish this national park, however.)
The unit of the park that we explored via the Jeep for a portion of the 36-mile scenic loop drive seemed so much like Badlands National Park in South Dakota that we felt as though we had already been here. We did see a few bison, some feral horses, thousands of prairie dogs (no exaggeration!), a couple of coyotes chasing the prairie dogs as well as a badger trying desperately to have one for lunch to no avail.
If you are up for some off-roadin’, this could be a great place to check out. Make sure you bring your compass though. We had to forego this opportunity since our Jeep wasn’t in great shape (remember, the altercation with the deer…) but you can take Custer Trail Auto Tour from just south of the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.
I guess we were just plain tired, tired of driving, tired of badlands, tired of traveling, tired…things started to look too familiar so we stopped on the loop, turned back for Medora and spent the rest of the day exploring the small western town. That was fun, yet, it is a very very small town.
Back to the RV Park in Dickinson for some R&R, time to recharge our batteries.